Amnesty International releases findings on Mai-Kadra massacre

International Amnesty

Dozens of newly excavated tombs fill the church grounds at Mai-Kadra. Shovels abandoned by tired hands are strewn on the ground amid empty cans of lemon air freshener that fail to mask the stench of death.

In other parts of this city in western Tigray, dozens of corpses still await an abandoned grave in a roadside ditch, their exposed flesh rotting in the sun.

No one denies that something terrible happened here: a massacre of hundreds of civilians, who were shot, stabbed or stabbed with knives and machetes.

It is the best known episode of violence against the civilian population in the growing bloodshed in northern Ethiopia.

But the dead are now pawns in a blame game. Participants in the three-week conflict seek to absolve themselves of an atrocity that bears the hallmark of a war crime.

– Contested narrative –

The November 9 massacre was revealed by the human rights group Amnesty International, using photo and video analysis and interviews with witnesses who said that retreating forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were responsible for the killing. to residents of the city of ethnic Amhara.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has seized on this narrative, and the atrocity provides further arguments to fuel its offensive against dissident leaders in the northern Tigray region.

On Tuesday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (ECHR), a government-affiliated body, issued a report blaming a group of Tigray youth, as well as local police and militia, for the massacre of at least 600 people who, he said, were “previously identified” by ethnicity.

But Tigrayan refugees who fled Mai-Kadra to Sudan say pro-government forces were responsible for the killings during a brutal assault on the city of 40,000 people.

– ‘Ethnic cleansing’ –

Last week, AFP gained exceptional access to federally controlled territory in the northern conflict zone and visited Mai-Kadra.

Amhara residents of the city said their Tigrayan neighbors had turned on them as the fighting drew near.

“Militiamen and police attacked us with guns and civilians attacked us with machetes,” said Misganaw Gebeyo, a 23-year-old peasant from Amhara who is now lying in a hospital bed, with a ragged scar that extends under the medical gauze that covers his head. “The entire population is involved.”

He remembered hiding in his house, watching with terror as the robbers beheaded his friend with a machete. He too was hacked and left for dead.

“They wanted to exterminate the Amharas,” Misganaw said.

The new city administrator, a government loyalist named Fentahun Bihohegn, described the massacre as an attempted act of “genocide” against his fellow Amharas.

“Brutal ethnic cleansing has been committed against the Amhara people,” said Fentahun, describing the entire TPLF, whether leaders or members, as “criminals.”

“For me, I have witnessed the real hell here in Mai-Kadra,” he said.

– Corpses in the streets –

A different story of the massacre can be found a short distance to the west, in the rapidly growing refugee camps across the border in Sudan.

“Ethiopian soldiers and militiamen from Amhara entered the city and shot into the air and at the residents,” Marsem Gadi, a 29-year-old farmer who fled with thousands of other Tigrayans to the Um Raquba refugee camp, told AFP.

“We ran out of town to find safety. I saw men in civilian clothes attacking villagers with knives and axes, ”he said. “There were corpses in the streets.”

When Marsem returned home later, his home had been ransacked and his wife and three-year-old son had left. “I don’t know if they are still alive,” he said. After that, he fled to Sudan.

Other refugees shared similar stories of attacks by pro-government forces, not the TPLF.

Elifa Sagadi said she too ran for the safety of the nearby fields when the shooting began.

“On the way I saw at least 40 bodies. Some had bullets to the head, others had been stabbed, ”he said about his return. “When I came home, my house was on fire and my husband and two children were missing.”

In a statement, the Ethiopian government appeared to dismiss all such testimonies as the work of “TPLF agents (who) have infiltrated refugees fleeing to Sudan to carry out disinformation missions.”

For his part, the leader of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, rejected suggestions that his forces were responsible for the massacre as “unfounded”.

“It cannot be related to us. We have our values, we have our standards. We know how to handle people, ”he said.

Amnesty researcher Fisseha Tekle told AFP that the stories heard in Mai-Kadra and Um Raquba could be true: a tit-for-tat ethnic massacre that reveals the dangers of a conflict that could spiral out of control.

“We do not know the full scope of the situation,” he said, adding that the killings “may constitute war crimes.”

– Deepening of divisions –

The UN and human rights groups have called for an impartial investigation, but a communications blackout, movement restrictions and continued fighting in Tigray make that unlikely any time soon.

The Amhara and Tigrayans were uncomfortable neighbors before the current fighting, and tension over the land led to violent clashes.

The fact that Mai-Kadra is now being administered, at least temporarily, by Amharas brings relief to Amharas, even as it deepens Tigrayan’s fears of a takeover.

“Now I feel very free,” said Adugna Abiru, a farmer from Amhara who has worked in Mai-Kadra for two decades.

“Before, if you spoke on the phone in Amharic and not in Tigrinya (the Tigrayan language), people would look at you. You didn’t feel safe, ”he said.

Fentahun, the new administrator, who arrived after the federal government took control on November 10 and drives in a van with three armed guards, said he and his fellow Amharans did not want revenge on the Tigrayans. He insisted that there were still Tigrayan residents in Mai-Kadra, but could not identify any.

However, he urged refugees to return home from Sudan, something the federal government is also pushing even as conflict escalates in the mountainous east, where a siege of the regional capital is threatened.

“Our vision is to create a safe place for all Ethiopians,” he said. “We want to make this a peaceful place where everyone can exist together.”

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